Swiss mining project protest triggers regional curfew in Guatemala

Protestors in Guatemala City demanding the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei on October 20, 2021. Afp Or Licensors

A Swiss nickel mining project is the flashpoint of tumultuous protests in northeast Guatemala that led the government to declare a state of emergency in that region on Sunday.

This content was published on October 25, 2021 minutes

The imposition of a dawn-to-dusk curfew in coastal province of Izabal comes after two days of protests by indigenous groups who have long objected to the activities of Swiss multinational company Solway, according to international and local media reports.

Solway is a mining and trading company registered in the low-tax Swiss canton of Zug. It has benefited from the mining activities of its subsidiary the Guatemalan Nickel Company (CGN) since 2014. Nickel is a key component in lithium-ion batteries, used in electric vehicles, and kitchwenware.

According to Keystone-SDA, the protesters had been preventing the passage of CGN vehicles since October 4.

On Saturday, police used tear gas canisters to disperse several dozen protestors, leaving several journalists and demonstrators wounded, according to local press reports.

Local authorities, meanwhile, said police officers had been attacked with fire arms, which left four of them wounded.

"We express our concern for the hostile situation that is currently being experienced in El Estor, Izabal, where, after 17 days of illegal blockades by a small group of people who are presumably not residents of the area, four members of the National Civil Police were wounded with firearms," the government said in a statement. 

Community grievances

The protesters claim the mining company continues to operate despite a court ruling that called for operations to be suspended. This followed a request from indigenous communities who argued that there had not been prior consultation with local indigenous populations in compliance with International Labour Organisation conventions. They also argue that an environmental impact assessment of the entire area was not carried out. Local communities have complained about multiple incidents of environmental damage External linksince the mining project came under Solway ownership in 2014.

Solway says its projects in Guatemala operate under two extractive licenses – Fenix and Montufar – that are issued to CGN. The Fenix Project is comprised of a nickel mine, a power plant and the Pronico metal processing facility. Both projects have been the focal point of indigenous complaints over alleged water and air pollution.

Company reaction

In an emailed statement, the Solway’s press office said that upon receiving notice from the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mining in February 2021, “CGN adhered to the court order of July 2019 and halted its operations falling under the Fenix license”.

The Montufar operation, however, has not been the subject of the legal dispute and is not regulated by the 2019 court decision. In addition, the Pronico processing plant is not licensed under the Mining Law and therefore not subject to the 2019 court decision, the company said.

Solway bough the Fenix project from Canadian company, HudBay Minerals, in 2011. Mining operations started three years later following the rehabilitation of an industrial complex that dates back to the 1960s and has changed ownership several times.

The company cited an Oct. 24 government statement External linksaying that the pre-consultation process that began a month earlier over the Fenix mining extraction project in El Estor, Izabal, fully complied with the provisions of a June court judgement .

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